ORLANDO – If last year's 9-point win in the final standings didn't provide enough drama, the Moccasins added a little more in 2016, but the final result was all the same. After giving up the lead earlier in the night, Florida Southern came from behind in the final three events of the meet to win its fourth consecutive Sunshine State Conference Men's Swimming Championship with a 49-point decision over second-place Nova Southeastern.
Holding a 34-point lead coming into the day, another close finish was likely, but the Moccasins' overall depth ensured that even after losing that lead they still had plenty of firepower to win the crown under first-year head coach Mike Blum. Down by 15 points with three events remaining, the Mocs first got a gold and bronze medal in the 200-backstroke from juniors Marco Palacios and Evan Coleman, and then followed with a 2-3-4 finish in the 200-breaststroke by sophomore Luis Jasso, freshman Sean Kim and freshman Matthew Holmes. That put the Mocs up by 41 points and a win in the consolation final of the 400-freestyle relay by seniors Raul Garrastazu, Edson Lima, Alec Wathen and Holmes officially clinched the title.
Florida Southern's fourth senior, Jesus Marin, did his part too throughout the meet by earning one gold medal and one bronze as an individual and two more medals as a relay swimmer.
The final standings had Florida Southern out-scoring Nova Southeastern 792½-743½, and third-place Tampa with 722½ points. Florida Tech was fourth with 541 points, Saint Leo was fifth with 467½, and Rollins was sixth with 191.
Nova Southeastern cut into Florida Southern's lead right away in the 1,650-freestyle where the Moccasins got a sixth-place finish from Garrastazu and 16th place out of freshman Esteban Velasquez. Saint Leo's Daniel Bis won the 1,650, but Nova out-scored the Moccasins 43-14 to quickly chop the overall deficit down to five points.
When SSC Men's Swimmer-of-the-Meet Thiago Sickert won the 100-freestyle for the second year in a row and Marin was the only Moccasin to reach the championship final in that event, Florida Southern's lead had been completely erased. Marin finished fifth in an NCAA "B" time of 44.40 seconds, with freshman Nico Campbell placing second in the consolation final and Lima seventh in the same race.
Just as quickly as the lead was lost, the Mocs had it right back again after the 200-backstroke, which was won by a Florida Southern swimmer for the sixth year in a row. It was Palacios for the second time, and it gave him both backstroke titles for the second year in a row. Former Florida Southern All-American Jeb Halfacre is the only other swimmer to win each of the backstroke races in the same year, doing so in 2011. Coleman gave the Mocs another backstroke medal when he finished third, with he and Palacios posting NCAA provisional times, and junior Diego Gimenez made it to the 200-backstroke final too. Wathen finished second in the consolation final.
Now armed with a 7-point lead going into the last individual race of the meet, the Moccasins started pulling away behind a quartet of swimmers in the 200-breastroke. Anton Lobanov repeated as the SSC champion, but Jasso was second, Kim was third, Holmes was fourth, and junior Antonio Nunez-Alvarez was eighth. They accounted for 59 points to only 25 for the Sharks.
That left only the 400-freestyle relay, where the Mocs' second team of Garrastazu, Lima, Holmes and Wathen edged out Tampa by 0.12 seconds to secure the championship with an NCAA "B" time of 3:02.64. The Mocs' top 400-freestyle relay team of Gimenez, Campbell, Nunez-Alvarez and Marin also finished ahead of their Nova Southeastern counterparts by placing fourth in the championship race with another "B" time of 2:58.51.
Based on scoring in the meet, six Moccasins were named to the All-Sunshine State Conference Team. Marin, Holmes, Palacios and Nunez-Alvarez were on the First Team, and Garrastazu and Kim were on the Second Team.
The Moccasins will now await word on their selections to the NCAA Division II National Championships, which will be announced later this week. The National Championship Meet runs March 9-12 in Indianapolis.